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UN should review its own carbon footprint

More than 1,000 United Nations employees asked the global body to reduce its carbon footprint, including through limits to its own diplomatic benefits such as business class flights and gift trips, a letter obtained by Reuters showed.

View of an area of factories where there are carbon dioxide emissions.

View of an area of factories where there are carbon dioxide emissions. / Reference image / Pixabay

Reuters | Emma Farge

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Leer en español: La ONU debería revisar su propia huella de carbono

The United Nations calls climate change "the decisive issue of our time" and cited an environmental summit next week in New York. The reformers inside, however, say in the letter addressed to Secretary General Antonio Guterres that he needs more radical changes to order his own house.

"Our commitments must be more ambitious and at least as concrete as those of the UN member states and interested parties that are not members attending the UN Climate Action Summit," says the letter, signed by more of 1,000 employees.

It was organized by a group called Young UN, an internal network committed to ensuring that the organization embodies the principles it promotes.

"Just as Greta Thunberg just sailed across the Atlantic Ocean and young people from all over the world protest every Friday, let's look at our own impact and take bold steps to face the weather emergency," says the letter, referring to the Swedish teenager who has inspired the world.

The United Nations, a 75-year-old institution that employs 44,000 people in more than 60 countries, issued the equivalent of 1.86 million tons of carbon dioxide in 2017, according to its own data. That equates to a carbon footprint greater than that of several of its member states, including Malta and Liberia, according to statistics from the Global Carbon Atlas for the same period.

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Among the 10 issues identified by Young UN are travel assignments, which the letter says should be reduced or discarded "to discourage travel by UN employees and participants in UN meetings motivated by financial gain."

The assignments, or diets as they are known internally, are intended to cover travel costs - including food and lodging - and can exceed US$ 400 per day for some destinations, such as New York, according to the website of the Public Administration Commission International.

The letter also suggests that staff should be rewarded for giving up flying in business class, where a seat with large space generates several times the emissions of an economy class ticket.

Travel accounts for almost half of United Nations emissions, show their data. Last year, under pressure from its member states, the head of the UN Environment Program, Erik Solheim, resigned due to criticism for his frequent trips. 

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